Rain hampers rescue as death toll rises to 51 from landslide that buried remote Indian village

Manish Mehta / The Associated Press
July 31, 2014 01:25 AM

Map locates Pune district in Maharashtra state, India.; 1c x 2 inches; 46.5 mm x 50 mm;

MALIN, India - Heavy rains hampered efforts Friday by hundreds of rescue workers digging through heavy mud and debris, as the death toll from a landslide that engulfed an entire village in western India rose to 51.

Rescuers are still looking for about 100 people missing and feared dead, after another 10 bodies were pulled out of the debris overnight.

"We have reached the main inhabited area and are continuing efforts," one district official, D.D. Kale, said Friday.

There has been no let-up in the rain this week, he said.

More than two days after the Wednesday morning landslide, authorities said the chances of survival were slim for anyone still trapped under the mud in Malin, a village of about 700 people in Pune district of Maharashtra state.

Kale said the bodies of 22 women, 23 men and six children have been recovered so far.

Suresh Jadhav, a district official, said about 40 homes were wiped out.

Two days of torrential rains triggered the landslide and continued to pound the area as rescuers brought bodies covered in soaked white sheets to ambulances while relatives watched, weeping.

Initial rescue work had been delayed by bad communications, dangerous roads and debris in the remote area. The disaster came to light only when a bus driver passed by and saw that the village had disappeared under masses of mud and earth.

Only eight people have been pulled out alive, said Yadav, including a mother and her 3-month-old son whose cries caught the attention of rescue workers on Wednesday.

Pramila Lende, the mother, said she was feeding the baby when she heard the roar of rocks and mud hurtling down the hillside.

"I started running with my child but a heap of mud landed on my body," she said. She kept the baby in an area with breathing space until his cries were heard, she said.

Suresh Dhonde, who was working in another town when the landslide ripped through his village, said only two people managed to get out of his house alive.

"The other six are buried under the mud," he said.

About 250 disaster response workers and at least 100 ambulances were involved in the rescue effort, officials said.

Rescuers expected the death toll to rise in the village at the foothills of the Sahyadri Mountains. Sandeep Rai Rathore, a top official of the National Disaster Response Force, estimated that about 100 people were still missing.

Landslides are common in the area during the monsoon season, which runs from June through September. The area around the village has been deforested extensively, increasing its vulnerability to landslides. Similar deforestation and environmental damage have caused floods and landslides in other parts of India.

Pune district is about 150 kilometres (95 miles) southeast of Mumbai, India's commercial capital.

On Thursday, heavy rains hit a remote mountainous village in northern India and killed five people, said Amit Chandola, a spokesman for the state government. The village is 300 kilometres (200 miles) north of New Delhi.

Last year, more than 6,000 people were killed as floods and landslides swept through Uttarakhand state during the monsoon season.


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